”Imagine, at 92 years, turning back to the thousands of photographs made throughout the many chapters of your career and, on second and third glance, discovering a significance in those images that you missed when you first saw them a few lifetimes ago.” From the introduction by Vaughn Wallace
ASMP Member and Magnum photographer Elliott Erwitt has a new book being released on May 15th called FOUND NOT LOST. What’s unusual about this book is that very single one of the 171 images featured in this book sat undiscovered on Elliott’s contact sheets for decades.
Now in his 90s, Erwitt began the process of revisiting his archives two years ago and with the help of editor Stuart Smith and long-time studio manager Mio Nakamura, he viewed around 600,000 images—contact sheets and negatives—from those developed in his bathroom sink at home at the age of seventeen to those from recent assignments in Scotland and Cuba. The earliest image in the book was taken in 1947 and the most recent in 2010. The sea of imagery dominated every flat surface in his studio for months. The book was an opportunity for Erwitt to revisit the photographs he made over the course of his 70 year early career and to discover images which didn’t speak to him at the time the images were originally taken. Although Elliott is known as a master of visual one-liners—bold statement images replete with humor, irony and acknowledged absurdity—the photographs selected for this book are quieter, more subtle and reflect Elliott’s increasing confidence in his own eye.
From post-war Europe to the former USSR, from the West Coast to the East Coast of the US to Japan, Brazil and Birmingham—these images contain familiar themes of dogs, children and delight. While some are photojournalistic in nature capturing historic moments, others are intensely personal such as photographs of his first wife and his first-born daughter. Born in Paris in 1928 to Russian parents, Erwitt spent his childhood in Milan, before emigrating to the US with his family in 1939. As a teenager living in Hollywood, he developed an interest in photography and worked in a commercial darkroom before experimenting with photography at Los Angeles City College. In 1948 he moved to New York and exchanged janitorial work for film classes at the New School for Social Research. In 1951 he was drafted for military service and undertook various photographic duties while serving in a unit of the Army Signal Corps in Germany and France. While in New York, Erwitt met Edward Steichen, Robert Capa and Roy Stryker. In 1953 Erwitt joined Magnum Photos and worked as a freelance photographer for Collier’s, Look, Life, Holiday and other luminaries in that golden period for illustrated magazines. In the late 1960s Erwitt served as Magnum’s president for three years. He then turned to film: in the 1970s he produced several noted documentaries and in the 1980s eighteen comedy films for Home Box Office.
Related Magnum Photos article that includes some iconic Erwitt images: Found, Not Lost